Child Custody Issues for Parents With Mental Illness
Whether a parent with mental illness faces child custody issues depends on how severely the condition is.
Data shows that mentally ill parents are more likely than other parents to lose custody, and parents with serious mental illness lose custody even more often.
The court will need to see solid evidence of whether mental illness causes a parent to behave in a potentially dangerous way.
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How mental illness factors in custody decisions
The best interest of the child standard requires courts to consider each parent's mental health. Some parents with mental illness try to hide their conditions out of fear they won't get custody or will lose custody of their children. Yet hiding your illness doesn't mean the court won't find out.
The court could order a custody evaluation to determine whether a parent has an undiagnosed mental illness or to determine the severity of any diagnosed condition.
The court's main priority is ensuring the children's safety. So long as your mental health doesn't affect your ability to care for and protect your children, you have a chance at custody, barring other issues.
Some factors the judge might consider:
- Does the illness cause consistent harmful behavior?
- Could the parent's condition get worse?
- Is the parent willing to get help?
- Will treatment eliminate most of the symptoms?
- Are the children old enough to understand their parent has a mental illness?
- How often have the children witnessed the parent's episodes?
Even if the mental illness has some impact on your daily life, the court may still allow you to have supervised visitation. The court could also require you to check in regularly with a mental health professional to monitor the situation. If your condition improves, the court could lift any restrictions on your custodial rights.
Parents with mental illnesses that cause them to become violent or require hospital stays will have issues getting child custody. Another thing that could work against a parent is leaning on the child as their main source of support.
Mental health could determine the types of custody a parent gets. If their condition affects their ability to maintain safe living quarters for the children, they might not get physical custody. If their condition impacts decision-making, they might not get legal custody.
Can I lose custody for depression or anxiety?
Anxiety and mood disorders are the most common mental illnesses. Many parents with depression or anxiety still have custody of their children.
Whether depression or anxiety will cause you to lose custody depends on the severity of your symptoms. For example, if depression or anxiety makes you unable to leave home to take your children to school, the judge might change custody.
Consider reaching out to friends or family members for help if your condition starts to impact your daily life significantly. They might be able to help you with parenting duties and babysit the kids when you need some time to yourself.
Having depression or anxiety doesn't mean you can't be a good parent. Be honest about your mental health, and show the court you have your symptoms under control; a mentally ill parent who's receiving effective treatment is less likely to have child custody issues.
Proving mental illness in a child custody case
If you believe your ex is being dishonest about their condition or its severity, there are actions you can take to prove mental illness and keep your children safe.
First, you can use a custody journal to document behavior by the parent that affects the children negatively.
You might also be able to access the parent's medical records or have records from when you were together.
You'll also want to look into any benefits the person receives based on their condition. For example, receiving Social Security Disability payments due to mental illness is proof that mental illness affects the parent's daily life.
A more costly option is hiring a mental health professional to evaluate the parent's condition.
Preparing for court
If you or your child's other parent has a mental illness, you'll need to prepare a solid case to show how the illness does or does not affect daily life. Custody X Change can help.
To create a custody and visitation schedule, click on the "calendar" tab, then click within the calendar or select "new schedule." Show how much time you believe your children should spend with you and the other parent. You'll always have access to a digital version of the schedule to edit whenever necessary.
Clicking on the "parenting plan" tab allows you to design a parenting plan. In your plan, you can stipulate that the parent who has a mental illness must take their medication and attend doctor's visits in order to see the kids.
You love your children, and they need you in their lives. Try Custody X Change, and see how it can help you spend more time with them.